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From foil-wrapped glaciers to the Alpine storm cyclist: the artists fighting climate change | Art and design

In 1975, photographer Michel Comte stood up against scientists, business leaders and politicians at the Club of Rome to deliver a speech about the climate disaster. Back then, he was still a student, and a little nervous – but he could sense the future. Now, Comte's recent works incorporating black carbon fallout from the jet stream, shown in Rome, Milan and Hong Kong, just to prove it.

Comte's message was echoed last week in the UK, when thousands of schoolchildren – inspired by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg – took to the streets to pressure the government into taking action on climate change. Like Comte, they have come out ahead and are speaking out.

Sadly, that has not been the case for most of the cultural and cultural institutions, which have spent the last few decades responding to climate change with little more than silence. They have been dangerously complicit in desensitising society.

It has not always been this way. In the mid-90s, when a post-Chernobyl generation made its voice heard, the ecological protest movement was nurtured by critical theater, radical art shows, public debate and avant garde music. Then something changed. In response to the backlash against fossil fuels, major energy suppliers became involved with arts sponsorship. This was no harmless philanthropy. On the payroll of the fossil fuel giants. Some are still today.

But even for those who have freed themselves of it (or exchanged them for carmakers), the damage to a generation has been done. Forces arts institutions have been effectively engaged in self-censorship to pay for their productions, putting on amazing programming and covering critical topics, as well as not discussing our additive to fossil fuels. This report excludes the following topics: Education in academic, public and academic life.

But there is hope in the air. Tate Modern have Olafur Eliasson retrospective scheduled for this summer – his Ice Watch project was recently invited to the museum, with the carbon impact of each block accounted for. As for Comte, he is about to board a sailing boat for a challenging passage to the Arctic, creating a monumental light installation calling for our ways to change before it's too late. If we allow more artists to do so, we will have a culture fit for the generation of children who took to our streets.

detail from Lagoon by Yi Dai.

Subtle response to catastrophe … detail of Lagoon by Yi Dai. Photographer: courtesy House of Egorn

Nuclear fallout, rising sea levels and … nail clippings
When artist Yi Dai opened her first solo show in Berlin, she received rapturous reviews praising her subtle and intelligent coverage of environmental topics. Misfits, Offcuts and Castaways, in 2016, suggesting an urgent statement on the effects of nuclear fallout and rising sea temperatures, and the fragility of our ecosystem. Her exhibition what is the most beautiful winter in recorded history. Her show, Discarded … During My 20s (at House of Egorn in Berlin until 23 February), explores the subject of the human body: the artist glass that surround, contain, or reflect our bodies.

3D-mapping ... Black Light, by Michel Comte.

3D-mapping … Black Light, by Michel Comte. Photographer: Copyright and courtesy the artist

Sailing to the Arctic for a climate vigil
Wavelength Foundation is an international group of journalists, writers, environmentalists, cultural workers, artists and scientists. One of the foundation's fundamental principles is that of a meaningful cultural engagement with nature. Comte wants to set sail to the Arctic with the foundation for his large-scale 3D-mapping light installation Black Light, inviting sailors from around the globe to join his monumental climate vigil. Meanwhile, the Foundation's Change Maker Scheme is helping to build a sustainable arts and culture center in South America.

Social Stratification Reflector by Nadine Rotem-Stibbe.

A view from the future … Social Stratification Reflector by Nadine Rotem-Stibbe. Photographer: courtesy the artist

Remembering Earth before the cataclysms
Paris-based artist Nadine Rotem-Stibbe explores environmental issues with a keen eye for design. Her installation In Loving Memory, 2018, 0.8 ° C can be found at the abandoned building site at the Ebbingekwartier of Groningen, the Netherlands. It takes a part mocking, part melancholic view of our time, looking back from a fictitious future. The artefacts offer an unprecedented look into human life in 2018, prior to the great cataclysms that struck. There is a profound obsession with the industrial process of carbon-carbon polymer in the atmosphere. These objects seem to have survived an extreme climate change and offer a glimpse into our perplexing culture.

Tidal art ... Lines installation by Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyavirta.

Tidal art … Lines installation by Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta. Photographer: Timo Aho: Pekka Niityavirta

The art school on the edge of the world
Harris and Skye, Lews Castle College in the Outer Hebrides has been referred to as the "art school on the edge of the world." Sustainability is a key element to the teaching, with the students responding to the environment and the unique wilderness of the unusual location. The college hosts talking on a range of topics, from marine biologists and archaeologists to traditional workers working with natural materials. Timo Moi and Pekka Niittyvirta, which interact with the tidal changes, activating on high tide. The work provides a visual reference of future sea level rises and explores the catastrophic long-term impact of our relationship with nature.

Florian Reber arriving in Cannes on his Tales of Change trip.

Pedal power … Reber arriving at Cannes on his Tales of Change trip. Photographer: Florian Reber

Mountain biking through our tumultuous weather
Tales of Change brings together some of the planet's most iconic mountain ranges. Its protagonist, Florian Reber, cycled across the Alps, starting in Trieste on the Adriatic coast and arriving at Cannes, at the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way, he talked to farmers, foresters, conservationists, tourism experts, alpinists and professional athletes, psychologists, writers and journalists about climate change. Periods of tumultuous weather extremes are the solid findings, This was followed by the strongest dryer storms in recent years, causing record temperatures in October 2018. Next came torrential rain and strong winds brought about by Cyclone Vaia, thousands of trees and causing casualties. During this trip involved cycling 1,180 miles, climbing more than 35,000 vertical meters and mastering two dozen mountain passes in winter, the intrepid explorer is now ready to widen his reach towards the Rocky Mountains and Himalayas. The project has been on display in Switzerland and Italy but, like Reber, is constantly moving.

Glaciator robot that went to Antarctica for Quo Artis.

Solar ice machine … the Glaciator robot that went to Antarctica. Photographer: Frederick Bernas / courtesy Quo Artis Foundation

Solar robots transforming snow back into glaciers
Housed in Barcelona's magnificent historical pavilion Sant Cosme y Sant Damià, Quo Artis is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the dialogue between arts, science and technology. Recent activity includes Glaciator, an art installation in Antarctica. As glacial melting is one of the most alarming effects of global warming, the mission of these robots is to accelerate the ice formation process, allowing glaciers to regain the mass they have lost as a result of the thaw.


Sustainability test bed … Funkisfabriken. Photographer: courtesy David Risley

The old furniture factory where 'waste is a failure of the imagination'
This 1930s furniture factory, located in southern Sweden, is one of the most exciting places for interdisciplinary research and innovation in sustainability. The brainchild of former gallerist David Risley, The Hub brings culture together with science, philosophy, free thinking and business, and is scheduled to open in the summer of 2020. With more than 12,000 square meters of open-plan space set over several floors, Funkisfabriken could become a test bed for new sustainable approaches. "Waste is a failure of imagination," reads its founding slogan. Carl Linnaeus's house and garden, the space wants to feature an array of labs (wet, dry, clean and dirty), an urban farm, a circular economy center, and conference facility, exhibition spaces and sculpture parks – Doug McMaster of the Brighton restaurant Silo.



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